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Monthly Archives: October 2014

STEPHEN HARPER: TERRORISM, THE MEDIA AND THE PUBLIC

 

Where do murderers go, man! Who’s to doom when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? – Herman Melville

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

 The Events

On October 20th, a lone male drove his vehicle into two Canadian Forces members in a St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec parking lot. One, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, later died. The driver was pursued, shot, and he too died later. That was all any knew initially and yet even before police had commented more fully on the episode, the Conservatives had stage-crafted a plan for maximum impact by having a backbencher, reading from a sheet of paper in the House, ask Harper if he was aware of a possible terrorist threat. It was theatrics and it was cheap, clearly meant to disconcert and surprise the opposition and inspire fear not only by raising the specter of terrorism by also by reminding the public of what the Harper gang have been saying since Canada had joined the war against ISIL: Canada was under threat by terrorists. Harper responded to the staged question by saying he found the episode “extremely troubling”. The next day he went further saying the attack had been “against our values as a civilized democracy”. Steven Blaney, public safety minister said the event showed the driver “clearly linked to terrorist ideology”. Perhaps so, but was this really an act of a terrorist or a deeply troubled man?

Then, two days later, on October 22, a gunman armed with a rifle, attacked Parliament Hill. Reservist Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, from Hamilton, Ontario, standing honour guard at the National War Memorial with another soldier, was murdered. The police response was swift, efficient. Bystanders stepped forward, an unidentified woman attempting to breath life into the soldier while others performed CPR. A few contemptible others, souvenir hunters and callous creeps, used their cameras to take pictures of the soldier’s dying moments while the doers, the men and women of action, strove heroically to save Nathan Cirillo. The killer himself was shot dead within the parliament building with parliament’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers playing a major role. American media disclosed the name of the killer before Canadian media. MP Jason Kenney demonstrated incredible insensitivity by being the first to publicly announce the death of Nathan Cirillo. In a time like this, some are always there to grab the headlines. No one knew what was happening, the police response was outstanding, and the media was there in full force the Globe and Mail capturing a shaky video of police racing through the lobby of the parliament building guns drawn. Shouts are heard and then an echoing volley of shots, too numerous to count recording the final sounds the gunman would ever hear. For the day, Ottawa was under siege. Parliament, public offices, Canadian Forces bases, schools, were put in lockdown mode for the day. The world was watching. And the media? The media was in frenzy acting as it always does in such terrible events, having a field day spreading alarm, speculation, fuelling rumours and offering little meaningful information.

I agree with Harper, these events are extremely troubling. But I am also troubled about what the fallout will be. For Harper, the Conservatives and many others, the immediate judgement was that these were terrorist acts. As a viewer watching the events unfold, particularly on October 22nd, I wasn’t so sure. As the day unfolded, I found myself increasingly doubtful that this was an act of terrorism and that, as the media first reported, there was more than one assailant involved. Rather, I began to believe this to be an act of criminality by an extremely disturbed, probably suicidal, individual.

THE STAGED RESPONSE

It was the first event of October 20th that gave me a clear sense of what Canadians could expect from the Harper gang. And it’s not good. On that day, while clearly prepped about what had happened in Quebec before the House began its session, a Conservative backbencher rose and asked Harper if he was aware of a possible terrorist attack. As far as anyone knew at that time, a vehicle had mowed down two soldiers and the driver shot and captured. Yet Harper and the Conservatives chose Parliament to exploit the event, perhaps because two soldiers were the victims. Immediately, the alarm bells rang with this first raising of the specter of terrorism, which conjures images of extremists plotting and acting against Canadian targets. It should not have happened that way. It should have been left to the authorities to inform the public, not Harper, certainly not the way he did, and certainly not when not apprised of all the facts. It was only later, with the passage of time and with more information gathered, it was revealed the driver was known to police, that he had become “radicalized” drawing the attention of security who had taken away his passport and interviewed him just days before that terrible event. But the speculation raised by the backbencher and fuelled by Harper was irresponsible because, though uninformed, had the clear goal of fomenting public alarm and of reminding the public that Harper’s claims over the few weeks of terrorist threats had, in fact, been borne out. That wasn’t true, but the public was to infer that. Too, the question and answer was also meant to inform the public that Harper was on top of it (at that time “it” being unknown but certainly declared). Terrorists had struck.

THE MEDIA RESPONSE

What happened on Parliament Hill was even more troubling. This time, Harper was more circumspect. There was no speculation of terrorist attack by him but, really, did anyone need him to say anything. The public could see for themselves the terrible image of the unknown woman attempting to breath life into the mortally wounded Nathan Cirillo, the massive police presence and the Globe and Mail video of police running through the hallway of the parliament building followed by echoing sounds of shouted voices and shots too numerous to count recording the last sounds the killer ever heard. But it was the media this time that exacerbated the situation, inflaming the fears with endless replays of the video and wild speculation that more than one shooter was involved and that there had been a shooting in the Rideau Mall. Terrorists had struck at the heart of Canadian democracy! Canada was under siege! This, too, was alarmist and irresponsible. No one knew what was happening but, while the police and security forces were doing a commendable job under great duress and without knowing what was happening, the media was fuelling the alarm with wild stories. Most irritating was watching CBC’s Evan Solomon breathlessly replay time-and-again that disquieting Globe and Mail video. This was sensational stuff and the media was sensationalizing it even more none more so than Solomon who, on the 23rd, on Power and Politics, still breathless, announced that he had a photo of a bullet hole in the carpet and would tweet it for the public. This is not responsible journalism but kid stuff. Terrorism had again reared its ugly head along with irresponsible reporting.

For the remainder of the day, there was nothing heard from Harper. But there was, for public consumption a photo of a sombre Harper attentively listening to the RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson as he was briefed. It’s a picture I imagine Canadians will be seeing a lot. There’s an election on the way.

The two events were terrible and terrifying; soldiers Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo who had done no harm to their killers, fell victim to their blind violent rage and hatred. But, as of this writing, the brutal acts appear to be independent of each other. The fact that both had lost their passports, the second shooter likely for his criminal activities and the first, the killer of Patrice Vincent, for his radicalization, does not mean this was an organized plot by terrorists seeking martyrdom for a holy war. Until we know more, the wiser course would be to consider these as separate criminal acts by loners and losers seeking retribution against a society they blame for real and imagined losses, failures and failings. If it was the latter, and I don’t know if it was, but if it was, then these are not acts of ideologues, believers, self-imagined warriors, but of miserable little men who have become lost somehow and sought easy answers and comfort by turning to others feeling just as they did, hating the world, wanting to strike back, feeding them the same lies and excuses they feed themselves: it’s not their fault, it’s them, those out there, society. Malcontent, unhappy with their lives and themselves, lonely, isolated, seeking attention and, as some do, finding it in the only way they can because they are misfits and losers: blaming others and hurting others. If some turn to ISIL, it’s likely because something in ISIL struck a chord: all westerners are evil, responsible for all their ills and pain; it’s the same blame game, but openly declared and open for membership. If some then read from the Qur’an, act as these two have done, that doesn’t mean the Muslim faith is responsible any more than someone quoting from the Bible. These are delusional people fed what they want to hear, picking and choosing from scripture the things that feed their rage and then act out their own delusional nightmares. There are many like them in society. With people such as these, one act often leads to another, copycat losers and each craving attention, their five minutes of “fame”, the notoriety they believe is owed them by a society that has denied them everything. These are disgruntled, alienated, possibly mentally ill individuals. Feeding into the “terrorist” frenzy is foolhardy and dangerous. Giving the killers this much attention is only likely to cause others, equally disaffected, to attempt something similar if not more outrageous down the road. Be vigilant, yes, but let’s not succumb to irrationality. If these were, in fact, isolated incidents, terrorism by the alienated rather than the “true believer”, Canadians may have even greater cause for alarm. The danger may be from its own government.

Not long ago, Harper spoke of changing rules to give CSIS and the RCMP greater powers to spy, detain and arrest Canadians. In parliament, he stated his position to expedite the changes. This is reactive and reflexive legislation; it’s not good legislation. It is based on fear rather than on logic and facts. It does, however, feed nicely into the Conservative narrative and will no doubt assuage the fear of those easily fearful. As a consequence, one of the changes we will see is the right of informants to remain anonymous and free from prosecution. The accused will not be granted the right to face his accuser. Anyone with a grudge could lay a charge against anyone. This is not what one would expect from a democracy. Even today the Harper gang and the police are encouraging the public to take on the role of informers if they see anything suspicious. Do we really need leaders creating an atmosphere of paranoia? Do we really want a nation of informers?

Knowing how the public tends to overreact on the least of information, especially when fuelled by fear mongering and scattershot rumours, it’s easy to anticipate many anonymous calls.

OUR RESPONSE

In my first post as a blogger, March 28, 2013, I wrote the following: “I dislike Stephen Harper. I dislike his gang. I consider them thugs and a threat to Canadian Democracy.” Nothing has caused me to change my opinion. In fact, my view has become even more entrenched.

Since the terrible events, the Harper gang has made many references to democracy, which, in the past, they appeared to find a hindrance based on some of their actions. It’s a word they evoke whenever it suits their purposes. With these murderous events, they will refer to democracy many times; the Conservatives and their supporters may even believe they have invented it by the time next election comes.

But this is a closed, secretive government. It ignores the opposition, closes debates and attempts to slip in legislation among vast omnibus bills.

Any government that is as closed, secretive, that changes the Elections Act to possibly disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, cannot be trusted to do what is best for the interests of Canada and Canadians.

This is a government that views all critics as the enemy. This is the government that believes Canadians should remain uninformed about the true cost of spending on fighter jets and security. This is the government that ignores evidence regarding crime rates. Instead, they build more jails, institute mandatory sentencing, and cut rehabilitative programs instead of preparing convicts for a life outside of prison. This is the government that believes those collecting welfare are all potential fraudsters and that Canadian workers are less worthy of a job than foreign workers. This is the government that works with Big Business to supress wages. Little wonder that the poor and helpless are disenchanted and unhappy. This is the government that will change copyright laws so that they can use, distort, cut and paste media clips of their opponents without permission and without regard of how that material is used and abused. This is the government that dislikes the media (except Sun Media for whom Harper can do no wrong). With this move, he will have taken a huge step towards discrediting them by distorting their works. Instead of seeking solutions, the Harper gang carries on as if none of this matters. That Harper would increase spying on Canadians is not new. He prefers to be punitive than to seek solutions; perhaps he is simply responding to the wishes of his constituents. This is the government whose members have illegally accepted campaign funds from corporations, the same government whose members broke election rules, illegally attended fundraising events whose guests were the very people who stood to gain from the decisions their ministries made (think Shelly Glover, Leona Aglukkaq). This is the same government that has moved the investigative arm of Elections Canada, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, to the Department of Public Prosecutions in the Justice Department, which is answerable to government whereby Elections Canada is answerable to parliament. This will lead to the real possibility of political interference should a member of the government gain attention for election irregularities. And this is the government when, failing to stack the Supreme Court with their man, smeared Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin. When our own government and its members smear citizens simply for opposing them, when our government and its members skirt the laws and break election rules, when out government and its members demonstrate a strong aversion for democracy, is it little wonder that those who feel left out, who are marginalized and ill, become disaffected and angry?

I am fearful that the deaths of those two fine men and the actions of their killers will be used to justify putting in place measures more suited to a dictatorship all in the name of security. A climate of fear and nationalism appears to have been sparked by these awful events. Neither is good for the nation. They lead to excesses and it’s often the innocent who suffer. Do we really want a return to the good ol’ bad days when folks, many Canadian born, good, loyal citizens were interned in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, simply for being members of unions or the communist party, for having Ukrainian names and, during the wars years, simply for being Japanese? It could happen again if the Harper gang is allowed to exploit these two tragedies fomenting fear and granting more powers to the police and intelligence agencies. Informants granted immunity, warrantless online searches forcing Internet providers to surrender personal information, detention and arrest for expressing beliefs we may find offensive. These are real possibilities if Harper continues as he wishes. We were a fairly open society but it is becoming more and more closed, secretive and frightened; we can thank Harper for that. We mustn’t overreact because two troubled individuals acted as they did. It may well turn out there is, indeed, a vast conspiracy. But, until we know more, I will continue to believe these were simply two sad losers who struck at innocent folks for no reason other than they were troubled misfits. The world is full of them. It does no good to brand them all as terrorists. It detracts from the real threat: a government all too willing to chip away at our democracy in the name of safety. If people are angry now, it could get worse.

Harper once said of the Conservatives, “…we don’t practice sociology.”

Perhaps it’s time we did.

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But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

 ***

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety. Benjamin Franklin

 

 

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